Enabling better harnessing solutions for healthier, and more productive donkeys


by TDS


by TDS


© DONKEYS for AFRICA 2020/1

Harnessing and hitching are centuries-old measures used to engage the power of animals for human benefit. Wrongly done it can be extremely harmful and inhumane for the animals, as well as ineffective in producing results. There are many approaches but basic principles apply:
• No harm should be done to the animal.
• To enable maximum efficiency in achieving the desired results.

To start us off
As a starting point there is a step-by-step analysis of the components of a harnessing system, compiled by Chris Garrett, being presented at regular intervals on our Facebook page.

Single-shaft two-wheel carts
A recurring problem is the use of two-wheel single shaft carts drawn by two or more donkeys. This is a problem because:
• It was often originally used with oxen and little recognition is given to the difference between them and donkeys
• the type and design of the harness and hitching used
• the materials used and
• the lack of understanding of the forces involved.


From Zambezi Working Donkey Project in Zambia
"It would be wonderful if all carts in Africa were purpose built, lightweight and balanced, sadly this is not the reality where we are and what we have to deal with repeatedly are heavy, out of balance, badly constructed and overloaded vehicles all bearing down on those little donkey necks.

It makes absolutely no sense to continue placing the weight on the donkeys weakest spot when it should be on its strongest just behind the withers -the part of a horse's neck, not applicable for a donkey pls check. The conformation of horses and donkeys are not the same - equally, and size aside, I do not believe the amount of muscle they are able to build is comparable -  also for most horse driven in harness the animal to cart height and weight is usually less than we are seeing in Zambia.


Resources and training material to download to assist with harnessing issues so that your donkey is happier and more productive:

Share your experiences and knowledge, provide us with comments and opinions and stay in touch with us via - or contact Chris via his email at


HARNESS HELP - Abbreviated guide
by Chris Garrett

At ZWDP we continue to explore designing something based around types outlined in our presentation. I think we all understand that moving too far from what is currently used will surely lead to an aversion to use, 'Adoption' as Peta has pointed out is likely to be the most well received concept and this is part of the reason we have been looking at harness used by the Romans, Celts etc, whilst this needs a lot of thought regarding shape and padding to keep off the spine it is not so different from the present yokes for ease of use and most materials (wood, sacking, straw) easily sourced and hopefully not too complicated to be acceptable. We have a prototype in the making and will share once it's had a trial."

Interested in what they are doing? - contact Sarah at or

Fatigue, deformed necks, and wounds are common. Chris Garrett from The Donkey Sanctuary states that "this cart has been in use by generations of people who do not even acknowledge that there is a problem, why would anyone change if they can see no benefit?"

Various approaches have been suggested:
• Change the harness as per Peta Jones’ Powerset, with a system of straps
• Change the harness to include a saddle, along the lines of the old chariot harness
• Change the carts by adding extra shaft(s)
• Pad the existing harness to try to at least make it more comfortable
• Untried in Africa, add a fore cart and put a hitch on the existing single shaft carts, making them four wheelers.

We will tackle this and any other identified problems, step by step on this page. Please send us your ideas and comments.

Dr Peta Jones from Donkey Power has produced a video about harnessing: Watch it here:(140mg)